When Professor Henry Charles “Jatti” Bredekamp started his occupation as a historian of early Cape The city in South Africa, there was once nonetheless a repeatedly held fantasy that the area’s local folks, the Khoisan, had “all but disappeared”. This was once within the wake of slavery, colonialism and apartheid, a gadget of racial segregation via white minority rule.
Bredekamp, who passed away in September 2023, was once central in debunking this fantasy. Excluding his scholarship, he’ll be remembered for his influential function as a public historian and a conduit for the revival of Khoisan indigenous id. Many throughout the motion fondly refer to him as the daddy of Khoisan revivalism.
I interviewed Bredekamp and different “Khoisan revivalists” over a number of years for my ebook Khoisan Consciousness. I consider that Bredekamp’s attention-grabbing existence tale continues to talk to the current second, when individuals are proudly figuring out as Khoisan and critical ancient justice after being suppressed for hundreds of years.
If truth be told, Khoisan revivalism’s origins, riding forces and tribulations merely can’t be understood with out allowing for Bredekamp’s dwelling legacy: shifting conversations on Khoisan historical past and id out of the ivory tower of the academy and onto the streets.
Who was once Henry Bredekamp?
Bredekamp (born in 1945) served as leader government of the Iziko Museums of Cape The city, president of the South African nationwide committee of the World Council of Museums and period in-between leader government of Robben Island Museum.
He was once the primary instructional historian of color to be hired via a South African college. In 1976 he left his activity as a farm college instructor within the Nice Karoo and accredited a place as lecturer-researcher on the College of the Western Cape.
Born and raised in Genadendal, a undertaking station firstly geared toward changing the native Khoisan, Bredekamp had at all times been conscious about his indigenous heritage. He started to claim this lineage extra prominently as he established himself in academia.
He went in opposition to the present via focusing his research at the Khoisan’s resistance to, and mistreatment via, the colonial oppressors. He advised his occupation against public historical past and spreading consciousness about Khoisan historical past.
A decisive second took place all over a Khoisan Research convention in Germany in 1994. Realising he was once the one African delegate, Bredekamp made a heartfelt plea to the target market to “get better our previous and our traditions”. In essence, he was once exploring the chances of a collaboration between activism and academia that will kickstart Khoisan revivalism.
The large image
To grasp Khoisan revivalism, one has to again up a number of centuries. As Europeans settled on South African shores within the mid-1600s, the native Khoisan (sometimes called Khoi and San) had been violently dispossessed of the land that they had been dwelling on for hundreds of years. Those that didn’t perish of their resistance had been forcefully assimilated into colonial society. They had been made to surrender their indigenous cultures, languages and trust methods. They needed to surrender their conventional hunter-gatherer and cattle-herding modes of subsistence.
The Khoisan had been in the end labeled as “Coloured” beneath the apartheid gadget of the 1900s. The label described the ones of blended “racial” origins and fitted between “White” and “Black” within the racial hierarchy. Because of this, maximum South Africans believed the Khoisan had disappeared, apart from for a couple of “natural” communities within the Kalahari Wasteland.
This “extinction discourse” has particularly been challenged since apartheid’s death within the Nineteen Nineties. Expanding numbers of folks as soon as once more proudly name themselves Khoisan, in particular in city spaces.
Examples of Khoisan revivalism abound in South Africa nowadays. It may be noticed in activists occupying ancestral land in Grabouw. In the fight in opposition to belongings building on what some Khoisan revivalists declare is sacred land. Within the landmark benefit-sharing agreement recognising Rooibos (a plant well-known as a tea) as Khoisan conventional wisdom.
But if did the motion start? I began searching for solutions a couple of decade in the past, specializing in the views of the Khoisan revivalists themselves. Why did they flip to Khoisan id and what did they hope to succeed in?
Khoisan revivalists are a various team. There are longstanding disputes over management positions, political technique and the bounds of Khoisan id. Alternatively, all of them arguably search to instil a way of pleasure and possession amongst those that as soon as once more establish as Khoisan. Those core values had been articulated via the earliest Khoisan revivalists, no longer least Bredekamp.
Bredekamp was once the primary organiser of the 1997 Khoisan Identities and Cultural Heritage Conference in Cape The city. It was once distinct from previous variations on account of its lively recruitment of Khoisan contributors. They introduced their grievances and requires indigenous rights immediately to the target market. Bredekamp hailed this as the start of a struggle for id. He ensured that the follow-up version produced concrete coverage suggestions.
Alternatively, he quickly transform disheartened via what he thought to be the upward push of self-proclaimed Khoisan “chiefs” who didn’t supply cast ancient proof to again up their claims. Some had been unscrupulously having a look to counterpoint themselves. Relaying those considerations to the South African govt in his consultancy paintings, Bredekamp insisted that each one claims for reputation as Khoisan conventional leaders be totally vetted. He additionally fairly strangely instructed in opposition to granting the Khoisan statutory reputation as indigenous folks, a contentious factor to this present day. So far as Bredekamp was once involved, many had became the Khoisan revivalist motion right into a charade, divorced from its unique emphasis on heritage, tradition and language.
Making an allowance for the bold claims made via some Khoisan leaders, Bredekamp’s considerations stay pertinent. He insisted on ancient grievance, whilst ultimate aware of the plight of a folks he understood in detail.
Tensions surrounding decolonisation additionally stay as related as they had been in 1997. A few of the ones Bredekamp influenced actively, corresponding to South African teachers June Bam or Yvette Abrahams, search to incorporate grassroots actions in academia. Taking historical past to the folks and the folks to historical past appears to be Bredekamp’s maximum enduring legacy.